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Sparc plays ball with women's football

Published: 4:53PM Monday December 15, 2008 Source: NZPA

Women's football in New Zealand continues to turn heads, on and off the field.

The latest admirer is Sparc, the sports funding agency which has been taken by the strides being made on the pitch by this country's females.

Women's football was the big winner when Sparc released its latest funding distributions list on Monday, snaring a $300,000 investment for 2009 as part of a $725,000 investment through to 2012.

New Zealand this year performed creditably at the women's under-17 and under-20 World Cup tournaments, following progress shown at senior level at this year's Olympics and last year's World Cup.

"One of the critical things in this decision is that in terms of Oceania qualification the women should qualify for both the Olympics and the World Cup," Sparc high performance manager Martin Toomey said.

"Some other sports face a far tougher row to hoe."

As well, Sparc has fronted with $250,000 for the national men's team as the All Whites chase World Cup qualification through a home and away series against the fifth-ranked Asian confederation team.

Football New Zealand is naturally delighted by a funding boost of $975,000.

New Zealand women's team coach John Herdman described it as "a coming-of-age for women's football as an elite sport in New Zealand".

"In terms of an international programme we have been competing against Ferraris with a Commodore, and one run on the smell of an oily rag; but we can now give it a bit of an overhaul and create a much slicker machine."

"The team we've got now and the promising players coming through mean that the momentum in the game will continue to build and we can achieve something special at the next two pinnacle events."

Other Sports Not So Lucky

Three sports in particular have cause to question Sparc's Christmas spirit after finding their stockings empty when the sports funding agency released its latest distributions list on Monday.

Women's hockey, women's basketball and badminton have all emerged empty handed as Sparc announced funding of $4.8 million for 18 sports for next year.

The three codes received a total of $1 million this year, with women's hockey getting $400,00, women's basketball $350,000 and badminton $250,000.

Sparc high performance manager Martin Toomey said performance dictated funding.

"The decision has been purely performance focused on the likelihood of those sports being able to deliver a significant performance in 2012 (London Olympics)," he told said.

"It's looking at recent performances but also the potential, whether the right athletics, coaches and other people are in place to actually deliver in 2012.

"We think the Olympic sports should be aiming at Olympic medals, not the Commonwealth Games, which we think are a step along the way, not an end point."

In the case of women's hockey, women's basketball and badminton, none presented a  compelling enough case to Sparc for their funding levels to be maintained.

All three expressed disappointment, with Basketball New Zealand (BBNZ) especially  concerned, because there is no national women's league and the Christchurch Sirens are no longer a part of the Australian league.

BBNZ chief executive Dale Stephens said the funding cut "puts at risk the development work done to date using Sparc's money".

He said the Tall Ferns national team's best basketball was ahead of them, following an Olympic campaign this year in which they did not progress past the first round after winning one of five games in Beijing.

BBNZ at least saw funding for the national men's team boosted by $50,000 to $300,000 which will partly fund a tour to Europe next year as well as the side's Oceania series, from which a top-two result will ensure entry to the 2010 world championship.

The women's hockey team failed to flatter in Beijing this year, finishing 12th and last after exiting the tournament without a win, which prompted highly respected  coach Kevin Towns to resign.

Hockey New Zealand chief executive Ramesh Patel said some cuts would need to be made to the women's programme.

He said the reduced funding would likely impact on his organisation's programmes for both the junior men's and women's World Cup campaigns.

"We are very disappointed because the women's team is on the world's stage and even though we had a very disappointing year and we now ranked 11th, we are still in  the top 12 in the world."

Like basketball, Hockey NZ can console itself with increased men's funding, which  has gone from $400,000 to $700,000.

That money will be used for the national team's programme next year, which includes a home series against India, the Azlan Shah Cup tournament in Malaysia, the  Oceania Cup, the Champions Challenge and World Cup qualifiers.

Badminton NZ chief Mike Kernaghan said Sparc's decision would inevitably lead to a review of his organisation's high performance programme.

"Clearly when you do not receive any funding for any high performance programme it's very disappointing and clearly like a number of other sports we rely on high performance funding from Sparc.

"There is an element of user pays in our programme currently and so it will make it a lot harder for everyone."

Sparc will make a big ticket investment announcement in February for the nine "targeted" sports -- athletics, cycling, netball, cricket, rowing, rugby, sailing,  swimming and triathlon.

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